ASSTR - The Alt.Sex.Stories Text Repository
Warning: In his second guest post, Bacchus talks about one of the oldest online erotica sites, ASSTR. Some of the stories featured on ASSTR might be disturbing to you, as they have a no-limits publishing policy.
People have been using the internet to swap sex stories for at least thirty years. It’s been a flowering of folk erotica at its finest: for the first time in history, people could tell the sex stories they wanted to tell, without gate-keeping by publishers, free of the constraints of the commercal market, utterly beyond the reach of official attempts at censorship, and most importantly, without needing to fear judgment and shaming from their friends, family, neighbors, and sexual partners.
When online sharing of sex stories first started taking off in the 1980s, some of the infrastructure (think dial-up bulletin board systems, and usenet newgroups running mostly on university hardware) turned out to be fragile and ephemeral. Or at least, that’s how it looks to us now, with the benefit of hindsight to tell us how much of that early library of shared smut was lost. The sad truth: the fraction of missing material is substantial. Fortunately, there remains an even larger surviving fraction, thanks to a tireless crew of heroic digital packrats and dedicated mostly-anonymous archivists. Many good archives exist, but the undisputed queen of them all can be found at asstr.org: the Alt.Sex.Stories Text Repository.
The Repository’s greatest strength is its utter freedom from censorship or any other content-based limits. Of course, that’s also a weakness. Sturgeon’s law definitely applies: 90% of everything is crap. The rule is just as true for our beloved folk erotica as it would be for any other collection of amateur literature. If you’ve ever dipped into a large archive of fan fiction, you understand what it means for the Repository to operate without editors and gatekeepers.
But that’s only the first part of the challenge the Repository poses for a new reader. No gatekeepers means no subject matter limits: none, nada, nothing, nein, give up already looking for limits! The sex stories in the Repository may, and sometimes do, feature animals, children, torture, gore, shit, incest, rape, buggery, screaming death, and popery. All in the same story. (Well, at least sometimes.) This is an exaggeration for effect, but only a slight one. If there’s any sexual variant or perversion, any subject matter that’s guaranteed to piss somebody off when sexualized, any taboo of any kind that you can imagine, you’ll find stories (probably whole archives of them!) in the Repository.
Needless to say, that can complicate finding something hot to read that you can jerk or jill off to. How do you find the good stuff (whatever that means to you) when it’s swimming in a vast ocean of other people’s “good stuff” that may strike you personally as icky junk that squicks you out?
Enter the Collections Index. Over the years, many people have put together their own archives and indices of their favorite stories, using whatever personal criteria worked for them. Often, these collections are well-curated with keywords, story codes, and summaries. As a rule it’s much easier and less disturbing to find a collection that’s to your taste than it is to dip into the raw feed of everything at the Repository. One of the most famous of these collections is The Kristen Archive:
Kristen (who has been collecting her stories since 1997) offers an assortment of “Category Archives” that make it ridiculously easy to find the kind of erotic stories you want without having to see too many that you don’t. Her alphabetized categories range from Asian to Wife with many categories in between. Want an erotic sci-fi story? Just dip into that category and choose from a lengthy list, with plenty of description to let you know what you’re getting into:
Another longtime favorite collection of mine is Ol’ Joe’s Collection. Ol’ Joe (whoever he is) doesn’t have all the curatorial features you’ll find in the Kristen Archive; instead, his collection offers 17 plainly-named directories full of categorized stories.
The reason I like Ol’ Joe’s collection is that Joe’s curatorial chops are solid and reliable. As long as you stick to directories featuring stories that are to your taste, the erotica you’ll find in his folders will prove to have been well-selected. You’ll find most of the stories to be well-written (by the standards that prevail in this realm), erotic, and highly functional as masturbatory reading. (Unless of course you’ve chosen to peek into a directory with a theme that squicks you. My advice: just don’t do that.)
I could go on at length, highlighting various collections and pointing out different ways to access the Repository. But in the end, the Repository is too big to encompass in this short article. You’ve just got to explore it for yourself; it’s not a territory that anybody else can adequately map out for you. Which leads to my one serious warning: you can get utterly lost in there. There’s a non-trivial risk than when you go to dip your toes, you’ll get sucked in. “Hey, I’ll just go spend twenty minutes at the Repository. I want to find a good story about high school gloryholes and mistaken identities. And then I’ll get to work on writing my novel.” Seven hours later, you could find yourself browsing all bleary-eyed through a doujinshi tentacle-sexing story told from the point of view of the rapacious shape-shifting tentacle beast. What happened to those seven hours? Why are your underpants sticky? And do you really have friction-burns on your genitalia? These could become the new mysteries of your life.
But enough about you, let’s talk some more about the Repository. Does the Alt.Sex.Stories Text Repository have a stable future? Will it always be there for you and your sticky-pantsed crotch-rubbing? There’s not much recent news about the site’s status, and it looks as if the #pornocalypse has destroyed the site’s erstwhile ability to accept donations via Paypal or credit card (although they still accept donations by mail.) Currently the site is clearly suffering from some technical debt, with neither the search engine nor the Top 100 Stories list functioning at the time of this writing. This short history of the site indicates that the monthly costs of operation are considerable, but the donation log suggests that support is robust and ongoing. Like any large website supported entirely with donations, “precarious” is probably the best prognosis we can hope for.
Bacchus is the author and proprietor of ErosBlog, writing since 2002 about sex, porn, and the adult internet. In recent years he's become passionate about curating digital porn and about the challenges of stabilizing it in well-sourced collections.